Rush Hour 2 (2001)

D: Brett Ratner
S: Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan

Breathlessly-paced sequel to Rush Hour reunites bigmouth LA cop Chris Tucker (The Fifth Element) with Hong Kong supercop Jackie Chan (Shanghai Noon), this time starting in China doing battle with a Triad headed by John Lone (M. Butterfly) assisted by assassin Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Returning director Brett Ratner brings all the energy and wit applied first time out to bear on the second outing, and it proves just as satisfying. In fact, given the familiarity of the characters and the presumption therefore that no introduction is necessary, the film gets down to business so quickly and so consistently that it is actually marginally better.

The story kicks in with Tucker on holiday in Hong Kong and Chan finding himself drawn into an investigation in spite of promising to show his friend the sights of his home town. A bomber has attacked the US Embassy and the Triads are suspected. There's some dirty business afoot and our heroes are on the case in spite of themselves, drawing Chan into contact with a shady character from his father's past who may hold the answers to several questions.

The gags are mostly along the same lines as before. Cross-cultural misunderstandings and racial slurs abound, with the twist that this time it is Tucker who starts off in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course being more proactive, he responds to the challenge with broad comic arrogance, interrupting a poor karaoke performance of Don't Stop Till You Get Enough to take centre stage himself and declaring war on Lone and his minions in a massage parlour with nary a thought for their martial arts skills. It is all played strictly for laughs of course, and with Chan on hand at all times to balance his swagger, the pair make a workable comic duo.

Though the action scenes are derivative (there's a bamboo scaffold scene near the beginning which is strongly reminiscent of one in God of Gamblers), but they are well staged and well edited. Ratner knows well enough how to work with Chan after last time out, and there are some wonderful throwaway stunts which Chan fans will enjoy none the less for having seen similar ones when the star was younger (The Young Master, Dragons Forever). As usual the sobering outtakes at the end give ample warning to feeble-minded wannabes that these are not to be tried at home. The martial arts are not bad at all, and include some amusing action involving a cameo from Don Cheadle (Traffic, Out of Sight) and girl-girl combat between Zhang and Roselyn Sanchez, and though there are some big explosions, there is relatively little hi-octane hokum to slow things down.

The most remarkable thing about the film is its consistency in pace. Though it seems the narrative is punctuated with action scenes approximately every ten minutes, it never feels so systematic or contrived that you become bored with them. The story and comedy works well enough to propel the film forward, then Ratner kicks in with a set piece that keeps you glued to the screen for a few more minutes and eagerly awaiting the next. This isn't easy to do in the age of hi-octane and in the wake of the even more frenetic HK efforts from which the film draws some inspiration (and its star), but Ratner has succeeded. Though there is a 'serious' story thread involving the fate of Chan's detective father, the film keeps its dramatic pauses to a minimum and gets on with the show.

Rush Hour 2 is great fun. Brainless fodder it may be, but it is well put together and very entertaining if you're of a mind to appreciate it. Fans will not be disappointed and though initiates may miss the customary half an hour of character set-up, it's not exactly hard to get the idea. Rush Hour 3 is probably inevitable, though the prospect is certainly not too unbearable given what the makers have managed to accomplish this time. It can't last forever though.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.